Some founders jump headfirst into entrepreneurship, hoping an innovative idea alone can make up for lack of experience.
But others prefer to be a bit more methodical, cutting their teeth and growing their networks before taking the leap on a business opportunity.
Take AdAction Interactive founder and CEO Brian Fox, who pocketed nearly 15 years of advertising experience in roles ranging from account manager to vice president before launching a digital media firm of his own.
Today, Fox leads the company as a bastion of industry knowledge, helping guide and develop members of his growing team — where the biggest problems they face taste best chilled.
“We’re fortunate to have ‘champagne’ problems,” said Fox. “Our biggest challenge is that we’ve been growing so fast.”
We sat down with Fox to learn more about his leadership style and the effect it's had as the company has evolved.
We’re fortunate to have ‘champagne’ problems. Our biggest challenge is that we’ve been growing so fast.”
What was your first job and is there anything you learned from it that you carry with you today?
My first job was in retail working at Structure in the Northwest Mall in Houston when I was 16. We had some good times there. I definitely learned a lot, including the core discipline of accountability and the basics of sales. I learned I’m a workaholic. I never wanted to owe anybody money or let my coworkers or managers down. I’ve always had an allegiance to show up for the team and make sure that I’m trying my very best for my peers.
What other experiences from your past have influenced your leadership approach?
Over 20-odd years in the business, I’ve built up an internal sense of maturity to be a better leader. I found that through my own failures, the best way to lead is to see the best in every individual and to develop a team that highlights everyone’s unique strengths rather than building an army of individuals that reflect my own.
AdAction is five years young. I was not mature enough to start this company 10 years ago. I had to learn over time how you lead people you don’t directly connect with or think alike with.
How would you describe your leadership techniques today?
I lead by example, and I make myself a resource of knowledge to our team since I’ve been in the industry for two decades. This means I have to be approachable, be present in our conversations and actively follow up. I also empower the individuals on our team to be comfortable in their decision-making process.
What are some of your biggest challenges? How do you overcome them?
We’re fortunate to have “champagne” problems. Our biggest challenge is that we’ve been growing so fast. There are almost 50 of us now, and we’ve had a lot of loyal team members who are growing through the ranks. Now, it becomes a challenge of: How do we hit our core goals as a team while recognizing all of the individual efforts that went into reaching those targets? How do we empower junior- and mid-level leaders to become more senior visionaries?
To address this, we have built formal processes around feedback loops, surveys, annual reviews, open communication and approachable management styles. We also built a 360-badge training program for new employees so they can learn the business inside and out from the get-go.
AdAction seems driven by culture. How would you describe working there?
We hire extremely slow. The vetting process to get into our AdAction family is very thorough. We do this because our team is filled with such great people. You can just tell that people are kind, good human beings here, and we want to maintain that.
Additionally, our work environment flourishes because we ask our employees to be empowered. No one here wants to be the caboose — an idea that dates back to my time at Structure. We work for each other, we recognize that work and we encourage our employees to take time off.
This ongoing health and mental recognition has made AdAction a positive place to be, and we have great retention because of it.
What have you done to shape your team’s culture directly?
When we started in 2013, it was just me. I bootstrapped the company and handpicked our first four to five employees. There’s a lot to be said about those bricks that we initially laid down. Those early hires have been the megaphone for our culture, which is way bigger than me now. Even with that growth, we still have a lot of the same processes in place. I conduct the final interview in our hiring process and provide the offer letter.
What’s one interesting thing about AdAction that not many people know?
I was really considering naming the company “Bubble Media.” I loved the idea of being at a trade show with bubble machines to draw attention. My wife, whom I met at an early-stage startup during the dotcom boom, quickly reminded me about the internet bubble and the “pets.com” flop. I had the domain ready and everything.